I am skeptical of the concept of "Charter Forests" (HCN, 3/18/02: Can 'charter forests' remake an agency?), especially when I observe who is backing it - the timber industry and its supporters in Congress and the Bush administration.
Under the guise of streamlining decision making within the Forest Service, the real intent appears to be to turn over selected forests to locally controlled "trusts" that are more amenable to increasing logging while winking at environmental laws. History is replete with examples of local communities, seduced by visions of short-term profits, over-exploiting and devastating (private as well as public) land. This would be no exception.
Members of forest-adjacent communities have a lot of knowledge and expertise to contribute to forest-management decisions. They need to be involved. But these are our "national" forests. People from other sectors of society - scientists, conservationists, and recreationists - need to be heavily involved as well.
The real need is not "remaking the Forest Service," but rather preserving and restoring our national forests. If the Bush administration was truly interested in forest health and the economic vitality of rural communities, it would: (1) end the logging of mature and old-growth forests, and (2) fully fund watershed restoration, job training and rural community development projects rather than cutting off their funding as it proposes in its budget.
Although they have been heavily abused by excessive logging, our national forests remain crucial reservoirs of biodiversity that must be preserved and restored. They are owned by all of us and must be managed by the federal government in a manner that ensures long-term benefits for the creatures that inhabit them and current and future generations of Americans.
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